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Hossein Vafaei vows no repeat of ‘crazy’ break-off in Ronnie O’Sullivan rematch

Hossein Vafaei booked a rematch with Ronnie O’Sullivan at the UK Championship (Richard Sellers/PA)
Hossein Vafaei booked a rematch with Ronnie O’Sullivan at the UK Championship (Richard Sellers/PA)

Hossein Vafaei has vowed there will be no repeat of his kamikaze Crucible break-off when he faces Ronnie O’Sullivan in the semi-finals of the UK Snooker Championship in York on Saturday.

The Iranian sealed a rematch of the grudge clash that rocked last April’s World Championship by beating China’s Zhang Anda 6-4 while O’Sullivan dredged up a break of 122 to sink qualifier Zhou Yuelong in a final-frame decider.

Vafaei says he has no regrets about his wild start – where he smashed the balls from his first break-off and saw O’Sullivan mop up a clinical 78 – at the Crucible, which was a response to perceived disrespect shown by O’Sullivan when he played a similar shot in a match at the German Masters 18 months earlier.

MrQ UK Championship 2023 – Day Seven – York Barbican
Ronnie O’Sullivan edged past Zhou Yuelong in a final frame decider (Richard Sellers/PA)

Despite also claiming pre-match that he wanted to “shut” O’Sullivan’s mouth and that the Englishman should retire because he was “not good for the game”, the pair had exited the stage arm in arm after the underdog’s 13-2 humbling.

“The past is the past,” Vafaei insisted on Friday. “I’d been waiting 18 months to do that. I know it was a little bit crazy but I’ve done it. Everything has karma.

“But I just want to respect my hero and have a good friendship with him. Life is too short. I wish him the best of health and I love him.”

Cazoo World Snooker Championship 2023 – Day 8 – The Crucible
Ronnie O’Sullivan and Hossein Vafaei made up after their Crucible grudge match (Richard Sellers/PA)

Vafaei, who has now racked up six centuries in the last two rounds, heads into their rematch as the form player after an unfocused O’Sullivan almost let a 4-1 lead slip against the Chinese world number 26.

O’Sullivan, who had edged through in similar circumstances against Robert Milkins in the previous round, showed his frustration as he missed a succession of easy chances before delivering when it mattered, with a final frame clearance to pink of 122.

The 47-year-old is also adamant he bears no ill will towards Vafaei, whom he considered a friend prior to the incident during German Masters qualifying which annoyed the Iranian.

“I didn’t feel disrespected (by Vafaei’s break-off) – not at all,” said O’Sullivan, whose quarter-final win was his 100th in the tournament since he first appeared as a 16-year-old in 1992.

“I’ve done worse – a lot worse. I like Hossein, he’s a fiery character. He doesn’t take no nonsense. That is his character. I like that in someone. He is his own person.”

O’Sullivan looked set for an easy afternoon as Zhou, seemingly paralysed by nerves, looked a shadow of the player who had accounted for both Neil Robertson and John Higgins in previous rounds.

MrQ UK Championship 2023 – Day Seven – York Barbican
Zhou Yuelong pushed Ronnie O’Sullivan to the brink in York (Richard Sellers/PA)

The Chinese player also appeared intent on gifting O’Sullivan the fourth before finally managing to get a frame on the board.

But from a 4-1 advantage O’Sullivan dramatically lost focused, missing a series of simple shots to allow Zhou to pull level twice, before he found just enough to keep his hopes of a record-breaking eighth UK title just about alive.

“I was just waiting for something to happen and it did, and I played all right,” said O’Sullivan, who continues to play down his hopes of lifting the trophy on the 30th anniversary of his first success.

“I just couldn’t make 20, just missing balls all over the place, and he looked like he was gaining confidence. If I don’t find some form from somewhere I’m going to get beat here.”

Vafaei was pushed almost to the limit in a high-quality clash with in-form Chinese player Zhang Anda, who had got the better of world champion Luca Brecel in the previous round.

Twice Vafaei hauled back Zhang’s early advantage by posting century breaks, then from 4-3 behind he summoned a big finish with consecutive breaks of 106 and 56 confirming the first triple crown semi-final of his career.

MrQ UK Championship 2023 – Day Seven – York Barbican
Judd Trump during his match against Mark Selby (not pictured) on day seven of the 2023 MrQ UK Championship at the York Barbican. Picture date: Friday December 1, 2023.

Judd Trump continued to defy a bout of ‘flu which has laid low numerous members of the BBC and Eurosport commentary teams in York as he reached his second UK semi-final in nine years with a 6-3 win over Mark Selby.

MrQ UK Championship 2023 – Day Seven – York Barbican
Judd Trump beat Mark Selby despite feeling under the weather in York (Richard Sellers/PA)

Breaks of 100 and 93 swept Trump into a 4-0 interval lead before Selby launched his customary fightback, recovering from 5-1 down to 5-3 before Trump, who has been fighting illness since prior to his first-round win over Pang Junxu.

“I’m still struggling,” said Trump. “I’m happy that I got through but I just felt a little bit horrible out there and I was going through the motions a little bit.

“You want to be able to give it everything in a tournament like this, but it’s just about having to grind it out because you’re not going to be feeling like this is every single tournament.”

Mark Williams and Ding Junhui served up a slice of snooker history in the eighth frame of their quarter-final, with the cumulative score of 101-94 in Williams’ favour beating the previous record of 192 by three points.

Ding, a former three-time UK champion, recovered to edge past Williams 6-5 with a 105 clearance in the decider, setting up a last-four clash with Trump on Saturday evening.